Rabbi Yoḥanan says: Why were the Jewish people likened to an olive tree? It is to tell you that just as an olive tree brings forth its oil only by means of crushing . . . so too, the Jewish people . . . must be pressed in order to emit its oil. Menahot 53b:12
How will we tell our grandchildren the story of 2020?
I thought about that as I held the tiny fingers of my baby granddaughter, born on October 29 into a world of masked faces and strict regulations. What kind of world awaits her, I wondered.
It has been a year of defining moments: a strange pandemic, tragic loss of life, violence, vitriol, and the demoralizing lows of a public discourse that, it sometimes seemed, crossed to the point of no return.
There was more, but I blocked the rush of negative thoughts. My granddaughter’s future, I know, depends a lot on the story her parents and grandparents will choose to tell. There is a better narrative.
I turned my attention to the heroes we discovered in 2020. Like Sarah Dukes. She and her husband, Rabbi (Yudi) Yehuda, director of JNet, Chabad’s Jewish Learning Network, are the parents of six children. In March, thirty-eight-year-old Yudi contracted the virus and became critically ill with complications from Covid-19. On a ventilator for months, he endured double lung failure, a tracheotomy, septic shocks, and numerous life-threatening conditions.
Sarah has been sharing Yudi’s ordeal on social media, inspiring the prayers of friends and strangers. Over the last nine months, we’ve followed the highs and lows of her fight, first for Yudi’s life, and then the crushing setbacks along the difficult road to recovery and rehabilitation. Through all of it, Sarah has wielded optimism with the grace of a skilled fencer, reminding us of the infinite power—rarely tapped—that resides within each of us.
Her most recent post as of this writing:
Day #231. We heard some news today that took me some time to process. The team shared that they haven’t yet seen anyone recover from the type of liver damage that Yudi now has, also known as “Covid Liver.” . . . I was firm and unwavering. I had to push away whatever anxieties were trying to force their way in. . . . We know the power of faith.
That’s a story we should tell our grandchildren.
This Chanukah, I held our newborn granddaughter by the menorah as we kindled the lights and celebrated the story of an impossibly outnumbered band of Jews who, emboldened by the justice of their cause, prevailed, miraculously, over a menacing force. My granddaughter will grow up also on the stories of the courageous men and women of our own time who illuminated the darkness of 2020 with their own light. She will learn about the power of kindness and generosity in a time of isolation and loneliness.
In Temple times, the menorah was kindled using oil that was extracted by “beating” the olives; the product symbolized the best that we are capable of giving when tested by difficult circumstances. I want to believe that my granddaughter will grow up in a world that has finally been made brighter and safer by the better angels of our nature, summoned in the crises of 2020. Then, my story will have a happy ending.
This article appeared in the Lubavitch International magazine – Winter 2021 issue. To subscribe and gain access to the digital version of the magazine, as well as to previous issues, click here.